Alice Sky, 15, of Herndon, was found guilty by a jury of her peers on the charge of involuntary manslaughter.
“She was guilty,” said Herndon High School junior William Smith, 16, of Herndon. “She had several alternatives. She could have called friends, could have called a cab or stayed there. It’s less of a consequence to get punished than to die,” he said, explaining his decision to Judge Gayl Carr of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.
“I think she was not guilty,” said Herndon High junior Victoria Johnson, 16, of Herndon. “She shouldn’t be punished. She did not mean to kill her friend, she is a straight A student and she seemed sorry for what she did,” said Johnson.
Smith and Johnson portrayed two members of the jury of Sky’s peers — the Herndon High School junior class — offering their explanations in the boardroom of the Fairfax County Government Center last Friday, April 19 as part of the Ethical Decision Making program presented by the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce.
The junior class, split in half, had two sessions. Half the class participated in the mock trial and the other half, divided into even smaller groups, discussed ethical scenarios regarding the internet in classrooms. The two halves traded places halfway through the program in order to participate in the other part of the program.
During the first session of the mock trial, the class found the mock defendant, Sky, not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. In the second session, she was found guilty. In both cases, the votes, by a show of hands, was close.
“You can’t vote twice,” said Carr. “This isn’t Florida,” she said to a round of applause from the students.
THE CASE PRESENTED to the students involved the ethical dilemma of two high school girls who told their parents they were going to the library, only to end up at a party where alcohol was available. Sky’s friend drank too much, and Sky, a teen without a driver’s license, attempted to drive home. Not only did Sky not have a license, she could not negotiate the vehicle due to its manual transmission. Sky claimed the fear of punishment from the parents as well threat of being remanded to a distant boarding school led her to take to the wheel and help protect her friend. Sky lost control of the vehicle, striking a telephone pole and killed her friend.
The class discussed the issue while seven students deliberated the case in a classroom before rendering the decision.
“Guilty,” said Herndon High junior Christopher “Chip” Otten, 16, of Reston. “It’s no big deal to go to boarding school. I’ve been to boarding school — it’s better than being dead,” he said.
Herndon High junior Jessica Trowbridge, 17, of Herndon saw it differently, in calling for a not guilty verdict. “She has to live with the death of her best friend for the rest of her life. That’s punishment enough,” said Trowbridge.
“She was guilty,” said Herndon High junior Catherine Tibaga, 16, of Reston. “She didn’t think thoroughly or consider her alternatives. She couldn’t drive — not enough experience or a license,” said Tibaga.
“This is an ethical issue,” said Carr, on the bench eight years. “These girls made a decision with consequences. A conviction is something you have to put on a college or job application,” she said.
“Alcohol is so attractive and so available,” said Carr. “It’s killing our kids — 1,400 college students die per year from alcohol — not alcohol-related deaths, but alcohol deaths. There are 700,000 sexual assaults per year that are alcohol-related. Parents are the key to this. I wonder if they’re doing enough,” she said.
DURING THE INTERNET ethical scenario session, one of the issues discussed was the downloading of music off the computer.
“In reality I would do it, but it’s not ethical,” said Herndon High junior Eric Sollenberger. “When I pirate from the internet, I download a couple of songs. If I like them, I’d buy the CD — I’ll support the band,” he said.
Smith likened it to the free samples offered at Baskin Robbins. “Sure it’s there and you can easily take advantage of it.”
While the 12 to 15-student group agreed it was unethical to download the music, Sollenberger said he could justify doing the wrong thing, knowing it was the wrong thing. “It’s convenient. It’s less personal stealing from a big company than stealing from the convenience store. I wouldn’t do that — I know the guy,” he said.
Another internet ethical scenario presented to the students had a boyfriend and girlfriend breaking up. One has embarrassing information about the other. The students discussed the ethics behind posting the information on the internet.
“If a guy did that, it would be harder to get girls,” said Herndon High junior Eric Zakrzewski, suggesting that his future ability to enter into another relationship would be the reason not to post the embarrassing information on the internet.
“This was a good program, but the school should select the kids who are mature enough for the program,” said Tibaga.